Tara Calaby

writer, editor & phd candidate

Tag: fantasy (page 2 of 4)

Review: Every Other Day – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Every Other Day book coverEvery Other Day is the very best kind of escapist reading: the type that doesn’t require you to check your feminism – and brain – at the door. Sure, there are a few things here that ask the reader to suspend disbelief for a moment, but it’s paranormal fiction, and it’s no more than you’d expect.

The first thing that struck me about Every Other Day was the fact that this isn’t a novel set in the future. Instead, it’s a present-day alternate universe, with most things left unchanged from what we know. The big difference is that preternatural creatures have been a known part of the world since Darwin’s famous voyage. Our introduction to the book’s protagonist, Kali, sees her hunting hellhounds, and creatures such as dragons, basilisks and zombies also play their role in the novel. I found this AU very clever, and enjoyed it as a change from the usual paranormal settings.

Kali is great. She’s not entirely human herself, and doesn’t understand why or what she is, but that doesn’t stop her from doing her best to keep the true humans around her safe. She’s accused of having a hero complex, and that’s very much the case, but it’s always refreshing to have a female protagonist who’s strong and independent, even if the latter quality does tend to irritate her new-found friends.

Speaking of those friends, Skylar and Bethany add two more fantastic female characters to the mix. Bethany is popular and seems to be your typical mean girl at the beginning of the book, while Skylar is an outcast, who is “a little bit psychic”. Kali resists their offers of help but they pay little attention, meaning that Every Other Day boasts a cast of three likeable, active and three-dimensional female leads. If you’ve read a lot of teen paranormal fiction, you’ll know how big a deal that is.

In another move away from the standard, there is a complete lack of love triangles, controlling boyfriends or, indeed, anything but the slightest hint of romance in Every Other Day. This is not a paranormal romance. It’s straightforward paranormal fiction, with an action-filled plot and pleasing sides of character development, growing friendships and family dysfunction. And it does it well.

My only gripe with Every Other Day was the fact that I found it a little hard to get into, initially. Once the setting-up chapters were over, however, and the main plot began, I had no more reservations. Every Other Day is enjoyable, creative and packs an emotional punch. Recommended for fans of Buffy and strong female leads.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Whisper – Alyson Nöel

Whisper book coverThe first Riley Bloom book, Radiance was enjoyable but, as is often the case for the first book in a series, the amount of setting-up that was needed detracted a little from the book-specific plot. With Whisper there is no such issue, which meant that it could dive straight into the book’s storyline. It’s a fun plot, too, with Riley heading to ancient Rome to catch the soul of a gladiator caught in an endless repetition of his own downfall and learning a lot about herself in the process.

It’s Riley’s character development in Whisper that forms the strongest part of the novel. Alyson Nöel does a great job of making her protagonist realistic, and Riley has all of the angst and frustration that you’d expect of a young girl who died before she could achieve any of her goals in life – even the seemingly simple goal of turning thirteen! Here, however, Riley really starts to grow up a little. She begins to look beyond her own feelings and to make the first steps towards overcoming some of her flaws and, in doing so, becomes a much more rounded character.

I’m always a little wary of fiction set in ancient Rome, because I often struggle to disengage my classicist mind and can end up spending my reading time picking out historical inaccuracies instead of enjoying the plot. I didn’t find this to be much of an issue with Whisper, largely because Nöel seems to have (cleverly) avoided placing the story too firmly in its historical context and also because I had read the note at the end where she admits that she’s used literary license where the history of the novel is concerned. I’m a lot less picky when a book doesn’t claim to be historically accurate! I will say, however, that the number of times that the Romans were referred to as barbarians was a little irritating.

I wasn’t sure about Bodhi in the first Riley Bloom book, but I liked him a lot here, even if he wasn’t around much! It seems like he has also undergone some character development between the first and fourth books, so I shall be interested in reading the other two to see what caused it.

As for the plot itself, I enjoyed the idea of ghosts being endlessly caught up in the repetition of a brief part of their lives, and I thought the insight given into Riley’s character through the dream world that Messalina creates for her was very cleverly done.

Whisper is an enjoyable book and a great instalment in a series that is entertaining to adults and younger readers alike. And now I have to go back and read Shimmer and Dreamland!

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Radiance, by Alyson Nöel

Radiance book coverWhisper, however, I decided to start at the beginning, with Radiance.

I assumed correctly. Radiance is definitely more my sort of thing. The series actually reminds me quite a lot of the Angels Unlimited series (Annie Dalton), although there’s enough that’s different about the Riley Bloom books for me not to feel like I was revisiting old territory. In this first book, Radiance, there’s quite a lot of setting up that needs to occur, which means that the first third or so is a little slow-moving. Once Riley starts actually moving towards becoming a Soul Catcher, however, the book really picks up.

Nöel’s regular use of sentence fragments, my biggest issue with Fated, is not nearly as obvious in Radiance. They’re still used more than you would usually find in a published novel, but here it is much more unobtrusive. I would occasionally notice them, but they generally didn’t pull me out of the book.

I enjoyed Riley as a protagonist. She really felt like a twelve-year-old to me. She’s a bit annoying at times, but that’s just who she is and the age she is, and with the series being a lot about her character’s personal growth, you need an imperfect starting point so that you can move forward. I wasn’t quite as sure about Bodhi in this book, largely because I was finding him about as annoying as Riley was, but I think that’s just a sign of Riley’s voice being so strong.

Overall, Radiance worked for me a lot more than my previous Alyson Nöel experience and made me look forward to reading my next Riley Bloom book.

Review: A Twist in Time – Jean Ure

A Twist in Time book coverA Twist in Time is a short and sweet speculative story for young readers. The protagonist, Cosy, is a likeable and believable girl, who is torn between her studious nature and love for her mother and her desire to fit in with her new foster siblings, Jade and Jemma. She struggles with the loss of her mother, who has been hospitalised due to mental illness, and with the stress of the academic demands of her new school, and finds a welcome distraction in the form of her very own ghost girl.

Because it’s written for young readers, A Twist in Time is a swift read, with not a lot of detail given. It touches a little upon wartime England, through Cosy’s interest in the ghost girl, Kathleen’s, era, and deals lightly with mental illness, but neither is given much depth. We see hints of the sad pasts and true natures of Jade and Jemma, but most of this is also left up to the reader to deduce.

A Twist in Time is a light read, with a lovely ending, but I was left feeling as though it could have been better than it was. The concept is very clever, but I would have liked to see Cosy and Kathleen connecting in a more mutual fashion and, perhaps, for there have to been a touch more action in what was quite a flat narrative. Still, it’s an interesting enough read, and I am sure that many young readers will find plenty to enjoy about it.

Review: How To Be A Vampire – Katy Hall

How to be a Vampire book coverFour reasons young readers will enjoy How To Be A Vampire

1. It’s pure vampire fantasy. The protagonist, Andrew, gets to experience flight as a bat, travelling through cracks in doors as a red mist and running through the town as a wolf.

2. Young readers (and boys in particular) will enjoy the fighting between Andrew and his sister, and the tricks he plays on her. Like Andrew, they might also think that the best thing about being a vampire would be the possibility of scaring a sibling!

3. There’s a strong bad guy, whom the three central characters have to team up on in order to have a chance against his vampiric powers. He’s not too scary, though, so more sensitive readers shouldn’t have nightmares.

4. The ending is very much in the horror genre vein and young readers will probably enjoy the twists and turns of the plot as it reaches that point.

Two things that may disappoint about How To Be A Vampire

1. The vampire myth is not expanded upon in any way. Hall’s vampires are taken solely from the more popular aspects of the mythology, with no real attempt to personalise them at all. This leads to the story feeling a little unimaginative.

2. As a protagonist, Andrew doesn’t have a lot of personality. Because there isn’t a lot to identify with about his character, readers are likely to be less invested in the struggle between him and Count Ved.

A fun vampire tale for junior readers.

Review: Storm – Brigid Kemmerer

Storm book coverI was really interested in getting my hands on Storm after reading some of the early reviews that have been posted. A lot of people have been saying that it’s a paranormal novel for teens that doesn’t feel exactly the same as the rest, and that had me intrigued. I usually enjoy paranormal aspects in fiction a lot; what I don’t like is the current fad for books that feel so very similar once you get past the shallow differences like character names and location.

Luckily, the reviewers were right. Storm does feel different. Largely, it’s because the romance here is always secondary to the action. But it’s also because of the interesting premise and the great characters than Brigid Kemmerer has created. The Merrick brothers have the potential to be huge, and rightfully so, because they’re the highlight of the book.

Putting the paranormal element (ha!) aside, I was actually reminded a little of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders when reading this book. There’s the same feeling of kinship and desperation with the boys and, of course, the family situation is also similar. I think most readers will come out of reading Storm with a favourite brother – and possibly a second favourite as well. (For me? Nick, with Michael in second place.) I loved how their interactions felt real. They fight like family and love like family, and that’s such a hard thing to capture. They’re not always likeable, but they’re never dull or one-dimensional.

It’s hard for me to describe my feelings about the novel’s protagonist, Becca, without giving away a lot of the plot. I liked that she’s caring, and that she’s strong in a quiet sort of way that forms a nice contrast to the strength of Hunter and the Merrick boys. I particularly liked that the book opens with her saving the male character, rather than it being the other way around. I think her fears and insecurities and her self-blame are all understandable and realistic, although I would have liked the victim blaming to be rebutted a little more strongly in the book.

Kemmerer’s clever concept of the elemental powers and affinities is also very well developed. Readers will come away from Storm with a sheepish urge to try to manipulate the elements themselves, because there is something so close to believable in the way it is explained. The pacing of the novel joins with this great premise and makes it extremely difficult to put down. It’s engaging and often exciting and a very enjoyable read.

One key aspect of Storm disappointed me, however, and it is one sense in which it is not so different from the glut of paranormal romances in the teen market. I am noticing a disturbing growing trend for authors to introduce rape and attempted rape as plot points intended only to allow a male character to rescue a female protagonist. In Storm, the attempted rape scene is particularly harrowing, and could prove very triggering to a lot of readers. It’s a lazy and disconcerting plotting practice and I believe that most authors are better than it, so I wish they would prove that fact by showing that a boy is kind or devoted in another way. Overall, I’m ambivalent about the presentation of female sexuality in this novel, so I hope that the rest of the trilogy turns that ambivalence to a more positive feeling.

Despite this, I really did enjoy Storm a lot. I love the Merrick brothers and the premise and the way that the plot kept me guessing from start to finish. I’m glad that there isn’t a whole year to wait until the next book, because I want to read more about this universe a lot sooner than that!

Warning: Includes an attempted rape, as discussed above.

Review: Never Have I Ever – Sara Shepard

Never Have I Ever book coverWith Never Have I Ever, her second instalment in her The Lying Game series, Sara Shepard keeps the positives of the first book and cuts many of the negatives, leaving us with a better book overall. While I enjoyed The Lying Game, its sequel really drew me in and I think I’d now have to call myself a fan of the series.

All of the characters from the first book return for the second, but the big difference here is that the Twitter Twins, Lili and Gabby, play a much bigger role. Initially very annoying, they slowly become more likeable as the novel progresses, much as Laurel and Madeline continue to develop and become more-rounded characters. (Charlotte, in contrast, seems to slip into the background.) Most of all, however, Sutton seems to come into her own in Never Have I Ever. With the back-story out of the way, her strong voice is able to take over, so we find her cheering Emma on and groaning at her mistakes and truly feeling like a real character. Although it’s interesting to see Emma becoming a little more like her twin as the series progresses, it’s Sutton who seems to have the most room for character growth.

Once again, the mystery is at the forefront of the novel, and much of the plot is concerned with the identification of new suspects, along with a few new threatening situations that Emma finds herself in. While there’s certainly a formula to these books, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun to watch it play out, even if we do work out the truth long before Emma and Sutton do! Shepard manages to keep the suspense high throughout the novel, which makes this a page turner and a surprisingly quick read.

My only real criticism of Never Have I Ever is that there were a couple of inconsistencies with the continuity. For instance, Emma uses Sutton’s iPhone at a point where it was still confiscated by her parents and, towards the end of the book, Sutton looks at Emma despite earlier stating that she can only see the world through Emma’s eyes. While such mistakes tend to draw the reader out of the action temporarily, however, they don’t detract from one’s overall enjoyment of the book.

Never Have I Ever was a lot of fun and its mystery well and truly has me hooked by this point. I’m definitely looking forward to reading Two Truths and a Lie.

Review: Forgotten – Cat Patrick

Forgotten book coverForgotten is based around a paranormal premise – that protagonist London can only remember forwards, instead of backwards like normal people – but nonetheless reads a lot more like contemporary fiction a lot of the time. London’s memory issues are always central, but there’s also a strong focus on family, romance and the mystery surrounding why London is the way she is.

With a protagonist who cannot remember anything about her past, Forgotten could have easily felt a little distancing, but Cat Patrick made the clever decision to keep London’s personality strong and constant, despite her needing to rely upon notes to feel her way in the world. I would have liked it if London had a few more people around her from her age group, as her complete reliance upon Luke for peer interaction isn’t very healthy, but I do understand that her condition would naturally make it hard for her to maintain many friendships. London is confident, interesting and empathetic – its just a pity she succumbs to Bad YA Name syndrome. London Lane? Oh dear.

Although I’d have liked to see London possess a few more friends, there’s no denying the fact that Patrick has written an extremely likeable love interest in Luke. He’s extremely supportive of London in all of her ventures (and moods!) and seems not to mind the quirks that stem from her memory issues. He’s definitely right up there on the list of non-creepy YA boyfriends. If only that list were a lot longer!

The most important and interesting thing about Forgotten, of course, is the novel’s premise. Patrick has both come up with a great concept and managed to maintain it in a reasonably believable manner, despite the logistical nightmares involved in working out how to allow London to function near-normally in the world. I like that some aspects of London’s abilities are left a little undefined, so that the reader is able to decide for themselves whether things are exactly as London believes them to be.

Towards the end of the novel, things start to be revealed at an increasingly rapid pace, which meant that I was left feeling a little like I could have done with an additional fifty pages worth of book! Some of these revelations were better signposted and supported than others, emphasising the abruptness of the conclusion. Certainly, there is a lot of room here for a sequel, although the absolute ending of Forgotten works well and the book exists comfortably as a stand-alone offering.

Forgotten has a great premise and an interesting mystery and should appeal to paranormal and contemporary fans alike.

Review: Night of the Werecat – Katherine Lance

Night of the Werecat coverNight of the Werecat is a quick, easy read that conforms perfectly to the chapter story rule of having a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter. It’s amazing that Wendy, its protagonist, survived so many shocks to the system!

The writing here is of an appropriate level for the age group most likely to read the series and young cat lovers in particular will love the premise. Wendy is a little over the top when it comes to her cat obsession, but no more so than many primary school-aged children are with their own interests. (We won’t go into my horse obsession here…) The plot is a fun twist on the standard “cursed object” storyline and readers should enjoy the idea of werecats replacing werewolves. I do, however, question whether Wendy and her best friend are appropriately depicted as eleven and twelve-year-olds. They read as being several years younger, which would fit in nicely with the age group of the book’s audience.

A light read for children who enjoy paranormal elements without much true horror.

Review: Drawn – Marie Lamba

drawnRecently moved from America, due to her father finding work at a prestigious English school, Michelle feels rather out of place in her new castle town home. When she first starts drawing a handsome guy in historical attire, she thinks nothing of it. But then a strange encounter at the castle makes her question whether the man in her drawings is truly a figment of her imagination – and draws her into the long-ago events that set into place the social structure still governing the modern day town.

Marie Lamba has proven herself to be a very proficient author of realistic young adult fiction, with her first novel, What I Meant… being published by Random House in 2007 and its sequel, Over My Head being much enjoyed by me when I reviewed it for my blog last year. I was intrigued, therefore, to discover that her next offering would be a paranormal offerings. There are no vampires or werewolves here, however. Instead, Drawn explores a connection across the centuries with a romantic interest who appears in Michelle’s life like a ghost from the distant past.

Michelle is a likeable protagonist, whom readers should find it very easy to identify with. Her isolation in her new home makes her immediately sympathetic and her determination to ensure Christopher’s safety is admirable. More importantly, she doesn’t fall into that all-too-common paranormal trap of losing herself in order to be with her love interest. She is willing to make sacrifices for Christopher, but will not stand for too many of his dated ideas about women.

Indeed, the best thing about Christopher, in my opinion, was the fact that he isn’t just a modern character in historical dress. He does not react to Michelle like someone from her own era and nor is his behaviour modern – especially when it comes to modesty! Lamba prevents him from ever seeming boorish, however, even at his most unrefined, which makes Michelle’s feelings for him believable – and will probably ensure he earns a lot of reader fans as well.

For me, however, the most fascinating character was William, son of the town’s most influential man. His depiction had so many different facets to it and his nature was so complex that I couldn’t help but be intrigued by him. He’s never entirely likeable – but that’s rather the point! In contrast, I wished that we had seen a little more of Constance. I found her character very interesting and a good foil to William and I would have liked to see how things worked out for her.

With a little help from Back To The Future, Drawn looks at the troubles associated with time travel to the past, in terms of changing the present, but also deals with the difficulties of a a romance where the two lovers’ worlds and lives are not just separated by states or oceans, but rather by time itself. While I thought that the novel’s ending was possibly a little too perfect (or perhaps that should just be enormously lucky!), I enjoyed the way that Lamba presented Michelle’s struggle to balance family ties and romantic love and thought her conclusions were very appropriate.

A clever and enjoyable paranormal romance with a love affair that fans of the genre are sure to swoon over.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

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